A suicide car bomber attacked a French vehicle convoy in Mali and wounded six French troops. This is the third attack on French troops in the past few weeks. Two previous attacks had resulted in five troops killed and more wounded.
The French Defense Ministry released a statement saying that a joint French and Malian military convoy was traveling in armored fighting vehicles near Gouma early on Friday when a vehicle approached at high speed. This area is where the borders of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso meet.
The French vehicle moved to block the road when the driver of the approaching vehicle, a three-wheeled motorcycle used as a taxi, triggered an explosive device.
The injured troops were immediately transported to a military hospital in Gao. The statement from the French military said that none of the injured soldiers suffered life-threatening injuries. However, three of the wounded soldiers were transported back to France for treatment.
The al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) has claimed responsibility for an earlier IED attack, but no one has yet taken responsibility for this latest attack.
This latest attack is significant as it comes at a critical juncture for the French involvement in Operation Barkhane. France has 5,100 troops in Mali as part of the operation. Yet, it is facing criticism both at home and in Mali about its troops on the ground.
French troops are spread around the semi-arid Sahel but have mainly been stationed in Mali. They have been fighting jihadist groups alongside soldiers from Mauritania, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Together with Mali, these four countries make up the G5 Sahel coalition.
France has also created the Special Operations Task Force Takuba, which is comprised of SOF troops from most of the European Union. Their purpose is to train, advise, and work alongside the G5 nations.
French Defense Minister Florence Parly recently said that the French government is considering reducing its military presence in the Sahel region. With a joint conference between the G5 and France upcoming in N’djamena in February, such a decision would likely be taken after talks between the countries’ leadership. The loss from a potential withdrawal of French ground troops may be eased by SOFTF Takuba’s troops taking over a larger piece of the advisory capacity.
French President Emmanuel Macron affirmed France’s determination to pursue “the battle against terrorism.” Further, he hinted that France’s refusal to negotiate with the insurgents may be re-evaluated as there are some groups other than al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region.
The French are also pushing against anti-French sentiment in Mali. This was most recently sparked after they conducted an airstrike against what they claim were 40 armed jihadists near the village of Bounti in the Douentza region. Nineteen people died in the strike.
The French claim that they had photographic evidence from drone surveillance that the dead were terrorists. They also stated that no civilians were present. Nevertheless, a group of Fulani herdsmen claims that the group was actually a wedding party.